LORE & LEGENDS
The Passing Of Peg-Leg
By Andy Adams in 1906
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In the early part of September, '91, the eastern overland
express on the Denver and Rio Grande was held up and robbed at Texas
Creek. The place is little more than a watering-station on that line, but
it was an inviting place for hold-ups.
Surrounded by the front range of the Rockies, Peg-Leg
Eldridge and his band selected this lonely station as best fitted for the
transaction in hand. To the southwest lay the Sangre de Cristo Range, in
which the band had rendezvoused and planned this robbery. Farther to the
southwest arose the snow-capped peaks of the Continental Divide, in whose
silent solitude an army might have taken refuge and hidden.
It was an inviting country to the
robber. These mountains offered retreats that had never known the
tread of human footsteps. Emboldened by the thought that pursuit would
be almost a matter of impossibility, they laid their plans and
executed them without a single hitch.
About ten o'clock at night, as the train
slowed up as usual to take water, the engineer and fireman were covered by
two of the robbers. The other two -- there were only four -- cut the
express car from the train, and the engineer and fireman were ordered to
robbers ran the engine and express car out nearly two miles, where, by
the aid of dynamite, they made short work of a safe that the messenger
could not open. The express company concealed the amount of money lost
to the robbers, but smelters, who were aware of certain retorts in
transit by this train, were not so silent. These smelter products were
in gold retorts of such a size that they could be made away with as
easily as though they had reached the mint and been coined.
There was scarcely any excitement
among the passengers, so quickly was it over. While the robbery was in
progress the wires from this station were flashing the news to
headquarters. At a division of the railroad one hundred and fifty-six
miles distant from the scene of the robbery, lived United States
Marshal Bob Banks, whose success in pursuing criminals was not bounded
by the state in which he lived. His reputation was in a large measure
due to the successful use of bloodhounds. This officer's calling
compelled him to be both plainsman and mountaineer. He had the
well-deserved reputation of being as unrelenting in the pursuit of
criminals as death is in marking its victims.
Within half an hour after the
robbery was reported at headquarters, an engine had coupled to a
caboose at the division where the marshal lived. He was equally hasty.
To gather his arms and get his dogs aboard the caboose required but a
few moments' time.
Everything ready, they pulled out with a clear track to
their destination. Heavy traffic in coal had almost ruined the
road-bed, but engine and caboose flew over it regardless of its
condition. Halfway to their destination the marshal was joined by
several officials, both railway and express. From there the train
turned westward, up the valley of the Arkansas. Here was a track and
an occasion that gave the most daring engineer license to throw the
throttle wide open.
The climax of this night's run was
through the Grand Canon of the Arkansas River. Into this gash in the earth's
surface plunged the engineer, as though it were an easy stretch of
down-grade prairie. As the engine rounded turns, the headlight threw its
rays up serried columns of granite half a mile high -- columns that rear
their height in grotesque form and Gothic arch, polished by the waters of
As the officials agreed, after a full
discussion with the marshal of every phase and possibility of capture,
the hope of this night's work and the punishment of the robbers rested
almost entirely on three dogs lying on the floor, and, as the rocking
of the car disturbed them, growling in their dreams. In their
helplessness to cope with this outrage, they turned to these dumb
animals as a welcome ally.
Denver and Rio Grande Railroad in
This image available for photographic prints
Under the guidance of their master they were
an aid whose value he well understood. Their sense of smell was more
reliable than the sense of seeing in man. You can believe the dog when you
doubt your own eyes. His opinion is unquestionably correct.
As the train left the canon it was but
a short run to the scene of the depredation. During the night the few
people who resided at this station were kept busy getting together
saddle-horses for the officer's posse. This was not easily done, as there
were few horses at the station, while the horses of near-by ranches were
turned loose in the open range for the night. However, upon the arrival of
the train, Banks and the express people found mounts awaiting them to
carry them to the place of the hold-up.
After the robbers had finished their work
during the fore part of the night, the train crew went out and brought
back to the station the engine and express car.
The engine was unhurt, but the express car was badly shattered, and the
through safe was ruined by the successive charges of dynamite that were
used to force it to yield up its treasure. The local safe was unharmed,
the messenger having opened it in order to save it from the fate of its
larger and stronger brother. The train proceeded on its way, with the loss
of a few hours' time and the treasure of its express.
breaking in the east as the posse reached the scene. The marshal lost no
time circling about until the trail leaving was taken up. Even the
temporary camp of the robbers was found in close proximity to the chosen
spot. The experienced eye of this officer soon determined the number of
men, though they led several horses. It was a cool, daring act of Peg-Leg
and three men. Afterward, when his past history was learned, his
leadership in this raid was established.
Eldridge was a product of that unfortunate era succeeding the
During that strife the herds of the southwest were neglected to such an
extent that thousands of cattle grew to maturity without ear-mark or brand
to identify their owner. A good mount of horses, a rope and a running-iron
in the hands of a capable man, were better than capital. The good old days
when an active young man could brand annually fifteen calves--all better
than yearlings--to every cow he owned, are looked back to this day, from
cattle king to the humblest of the craft, in pleasant reminiscence, though
they will come no more. Eldridge was of that time, and when conditions
changed, he failed to change with them. This was the reason that, under
the changed condition of affairs, he frequently got his brand on some
other man's calf. This resulted in his losing a leg from a gunshot at the
hands of a man he had thus outraged.
Worse, it branded him for all time as a cattle thief, with every man's
hand against him. Thus the steps that led up to this September night were
easy, natural, and gradual. This child of circumstances, a born plainsman
read in plain, forest, and mountain, things which were not visible to
Continued Next Page
Branding cattle in 1891.
This image available for photographic prints
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